Denial in Engineering

DENIAL of authorship, misrepresentation in a curriculum vitae, misuse of grant money, denial of access to biological specimens, theft of patent rights ˜ these are just some of the things I have ben informed about over the past several months in long discussions with a few scientists and engineers.

They provided plenty of documents too. In my studies of fraud and misrepresentation in science, it is apparent that the few publicized cases are the tip of an iceberg of ethical problems.

There is certainly plenty of material to be dealt with by Science and Engineering Ethics. Some topics receive a fair bit of attention, such as questions of authorship and data selection, with Millikan’s oil-drop experiment the subject of much comment.

But there are many others, including decision-making about genetic engineering, the hazards of whistleblowing, research on HIV infection, creative accounting and the right to die in dignity. Some important areas have not yet been treated, such as the ethics of weapons research. Imbalances are only to be expected; academic scientists and engineers, who have the greatest intellectual freedom, write most often about ethical issues that concern them personally.

As well as publishing papers ˜ selected by double-blind refereeing, what else? ˜ the journal includes articles about teaching ethics to scientists and engineers, reports on conferences and meetings and book reviews. One of its best features is the comments on papers, often giving strongly contrasting views.

The Editors set out to get practising scientists and engineers to write about the ethical challenges they encounter on the job. A resulting weakness is an occasional lack of focus and unevenness in quality. More than compensating for this is the journal’s accessibility and relevance.

With contributors writing from a range of disciplines, often aimed at practical interventions to improve scientific practice, there are actually several articles that could usefully be given to colleagues or students. So the journal has kept open channels of communication and avoided becoming an in-group of professionals writing for each other. May it continue to do so.

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